Beijing’s culinary scene is exploding, and not just in terms of the choices on its menus. With so much competition amongst the actors in Beijing’s food scene, these restaurants are striving to engage all five senses and leave diners with a completely unforgettable experience. Pay a visit to these 10 best themed restaurants for a taste of something new:
1. Heroic Mountain
Ever watched a wuxia drama? Now you can live in one – or at least try to recreate the experience with your fellow diners. For the unfamiliar, wuxia is a genre of Chinese dramatic or literary art celebrating ancient heroes and heroines, who are usually portrayed as having extraordinary strength and abilities. Not unexpectedly, a number of items on the menu pay homage to the renowned wuxia novel and television series “The Return of the Condor Heroes”. So too does the décor of the eatery, which is deliberately crafted to make a diner feel like they have entered another age. Traditional spears, straw hats and other casually-placed paraphernalia adorn the bamboo walls. Diehard fans can even dress the part - we’re sure you won’t be the first to have done so!
Address: 181-1 Dongzhimen Dongnei Dajie, Dongcheng district, Beijing
2. Ordos Hotel Restaurant (乳香飘飘)
The Ordos Hotel Restaurant’s speciality is in introducing its diners to Mongolian cuisine and culture. Its offerings include salted teas, barbequed and grilled mutton, warming bowls of noodles and for the more adventurous, fermented mare’s milk liquor. To complete the experience, diners will sit in yurts – the round, portable tents which many communities from Central Asia, including Mongolia, use as dwellings. In the dim light of the yurt and breathing in the smell of the woolly felts on the walls, it is easy to imagine that you are sitting amongst a grassland in Mongolia rather than a busy street in Beijing.
Tangentially, you may be wondering: Where is Ordos? This city is situated in Inner Mongolia with a sobering reputation as a “ghost town”. After an ambitious spree of construction, the city has ended up with more infrastructure and buildings than there were people to live in them. In recent years however, the Chinese government has doubled efforts to repopulate the city and it has shown promising signs of coming alive again.
Ordos Hotel Restaurant (乳香飘飘)
Address: 3 Shanglong Beixiang, Andignmenwai Dajie
3. 99 Yurts (九十九顶毡房)
Similar to the Ordos Hotel Restaurant, 99 Yurts offers a taste of Mongolian cuisine. However, prices at 99 Yurts are slightly more marked up than at the former. With its focus on presentation and ambience, it has even become a popular location for locals to bring foreign guests for business dinners. A highlight at 99 Yurts would surely be the whole roasted lamb, which is carved up and served in a number of ways. Much like the preparation of Peking duck, you get to enjoy crispy lamb skin before savoring the tender lamb meat.
99 Yurts (九十九顶毡房)
Address: 9 Yongtaizhuang Beilu, Mafang Cun, Dongsheng Xiang, Chaoyang District
4. Moscow Restaurant (莫斯科餐厅)
In just one day, you can experience the culture of not just Mongolia but also neighboring Moscow. The Moscow Restaurant has the honor of being (allegedly) the first restaurant in Beijing which served non-Chinese cuisine. This restaurant has had such an imprint in Beijing’s history that locals fondly refer to it as “Lao Mo”, which has connotations of something old and familiar.
Here, locals and tourists alike can enjoy a traditional Russian meal, from borscht soup to beef stroganoff. Situated in a ballroom, you will be blown away by the high ceilings, opulent chandeliers, and large windows gently shrouded by heavy curtains. Small details are also given utmost attention to enhance the experience, including the elegant background music. In fact, the grandeur of the restaurant was originally designed for top Chinese leaders, who would dine together in this exclusive space, over specially imported silver cutlery and fine liquors. Today, the restaurant remains a popular choice, especially for the older generations for whom the atmosphere continues to evoke nostalgia.
Moscow Restaurant (莫斯科餐厅)
Address: 135 Xizhimenwai Dajie, in Beijing Exhibition Center
5. House of Poo Poo (便便满屋)
This place is worth a visit strictly for the novelty factor. Sit yourself at realistic-looking toilet-shaped chairs, some looking uncomfortably worse for wear, and brace yourself for dishes which live up to the restaurant’s namesake. Curries, mashed potatoes squeezed into round swirls, and stews abound. If you have a sweet tooth and an iron stomach, have a go at the “super constipation black dry sh*t”, which has been described as a red bean-based dessert in a tiny potty. At least now you’ll know how Cady Heron felt in Mean Girls when she had to have her lunch in the school toilet…
House of Poo Poo
Address: 91 Dianmen Outer Street, Xicheng District, Beijing
6. Knights and Merchants
Knights and Merchants has gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the most bizarre themed restaurants in Beijing, and possibly the only restaurant in China which you would enter over a drawbridge (though no moat is to be found). As you may have guessed, Knights and Merchants is a medieval-themed restaurant. However, the main draw may just be its extensive costume section. Diners are welcome to don a suit of armor and wield a mace, a helmet with impressively thick horns, or just a huge hearty mug of mead for the night. Another interesting thing to note: the owner declares that the majority of the props are crafted by him. The house pet also wears a dog-shaped set of armor, suggesting that the owner’s claim of making the props by hand is more truth than fiction.
Food-wise, you can expect an unusual mix of modern-day snacks and dishes (baked rice and crunchy bar nibblets), and chewy slabs of protein aspiring to simulate the offerings of a medieval kitchen. For dessert, you can opt for a baked apple or perhaps just another black beer.
Knights and Merchants
Address: 34 Jiaodaokou Bei Santiao
7. Number 8 School Hotpot (八号学苑)
This is the place to bring that friend everyone has who never seems to grow up. Set in a replica of a Chinese classroom from the 1980s, the restaurant has a policy (which it does not actually enforce) of only allowing patrons born in the 1980s-1990s! Inside, you’ll find chalkboards, school desks, wooden chairs and even a menu in the form of a multiple-choice worksheet. We hear you can even attempt to figure out a tricky mathematics sum to claim a free dessert.
Food-wise, everything is made to be shared. A range of soup options are available for the base of your hotpot, each varying in terms of the spicyness level.
Number 8 School Hotpot (八号学苑)
Address: Xinjian Hutong, Xicheng Qu, Beijing Shi
8. Yaneura Cafe Kitchen (屋根里)
Inspired by the myriad of maid cafes in Japan, the Yaneura Cafe Kitchen is Beijing’s own alternative. Its 15-odd girls fronting the cafe are typically dressed in black dresses and flouncy white aprons, but don’t mistake them for mere service staff. They have been trained to entertain customers by pretending to welcome patrons “home” upon entering, and playing card games with customers. Many are even versed in Japanese. Fans of anime and manga will be especially pleased to find an extensive collection of books, figurines, and other merchandise.
In terms of food, customers can expect a selection of Japanese-style dishes, including omelettes (which a waitress may serve with a special ketchup smiley face), agedashi tofu, and grilled eel. Diners should note however that photography of the girls is not allowed, but you can purchase a snapshot for 20 RMB (approximately 3 USD). The girls are also prohibited from passing out their personal information to patrons.
Yaneura Cafe Kitchen (屋根里)
Address: 8 Xinyuan Xili Zhongjie
9. The East is Red (红色经典主题餐厅)
This restaurant is named after the famous anthem closely associated with China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. Immerse yourself in its over-the-top décor, featuring a life-size truck and copious Chinese flags. Be sure not to arrive for lunch or dinner too late, as the staff (dressed in military green and red) put on enthusiastic performances of patriotic songs and dances at around 12 pm and 7 pm daily. Its menu is predominantly Dongbei (North-eastern) style cuisine, heavy in pork, pickled napa cabbage and tofu.
The East is Red (红色经典主题餐厅)
Address: 66 Xiangshan Lu
10. Trojan Fairy (木马童话黑暗餐厅)
We hesitate to include the Trojan Fairy in this list of themed restaurants, because the only theme present is of dining in the darkness! The more cynical would surely balk at the prices on the menu (the costs of dining per person are approximately 600 RMB or around 90 USD). However, the lights-out environment admittedly lends some romance to a dinner date. Just be sure to sit close and keep any conversation to a whisper – some diners have noticed that in the darkness, it’s easy to develop a heightened attention to noise. The restaurant offers a limited number of set menus, featuring your usual bread, salad, and soup for starters, followed by a protein-based main dish.
Trojan Fairy (木马童话黑暗餐厅)
Address: 8/F, Hunqing Mansion, 109 Xidan Bei Da Jie
If you thought Beijing was just all about the Great Wall, think again!
With the endless restaurants, cafes, and street stalls to be found in Beijing, you won’t run out of places for a great meal. But if you’re ever in the mood for a wacky night out with friends or just something different for a change, we recommend giving any of these options a try.